Admission Of Scientific Evidence In Criminal Case Under The Daubert Standard

Sen “Alex” Wang, MJLST Staff Member

In Crawford v. Washington, the Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, overruled its earlier decision in Ohio v. Roberts by rejecting the admission of the out-of-court testimony due to its nature as “testimonial” evidence. However, it was not clear if the constitutional right of confrontation only applied to traditional witnesses (like the statement in Crawford) or if it also applied to scientific evidence and experts. Subsequently, the Court clarified this point in Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts and Bullcoming v. New Mexico, where the Court upheld the confrontation right of the defendants to cross-examine the analysts who performed the scientific tests. However, compare to traditional testimony from eyewitnesses, scientific evidence (e.g., blood alcohol measurement, field breathalyzer, genetic testing) is a relatively new development in criminal law. The advancement of modern technologies creates a new question, namely whether this evidence would be sufficiently reliable to avoid triggering the Confrontation Clause.

This question is discussed in a student note & comment titled The Admission of Scientific Evidence in a Post-Crawford World in Volume 14, Issue 2 of the Minnesota Journal of Law, Science & Technology. The author Eric Nielson pointed out that the ongoing dispute in the Court about requiring analysts to testify before admitting scientific findings missed the mark. Specifically, scientific evidence, especially the result of an analytical test is an objective, not subjective, determination. In the courtroom, testimony of a scientific witness is mainly based on review of the content of the witness’s report, not his memories. Thus, according to the author, though Justice Scalia’s boldly statements in Crawford that “reliability is an amorphous, if not entirely subjective, concept[,]” may be right in the context of traditional witness, it is clearly wrong in the realm of science where reliability is a measurable quantity. In particular, the author suggested that scientific evidence should be admitted under the standard articulated by the Court in Daubert v. Dow.

As emphasized by the author, a well-drafted, technical report should answer all of the questions that would be asked of the analyst. Given that there is currently no national or widely-accepted set of standards for forensic science written reports or testimony, the author proposed the following key components to be included in a scientific report conforming to the Daubert standard: 1) sample identifier, including any identifier(s) assigned to the sample during analysis; 2) documentation of sample receipt and chain of custody; 3) analyst’s name; 4) analyst’s credentials; 5) evidence of analyst’s certification or qualification to perform the specific test; 6) laboratory’s certification; 7) testing method, either referencing an established standard (e.g., ASTM E2224 – 10 Standard Guide for Forensic Analysis of Fibers by Infrared Spectroscopy) or a copy of the method if it is not publicly available; 8) evidence of the effectiveness and reliability of the method, either from peer reviewed journals, method certification, or internal validation testing; 9) results of testing, including the results of all standards or controls run as part of the testing; 10) copies of all results, figures, graphs, etc; 11) copy of the calibration log or certificate for any equipment used; 12) any observations, deviations, and variances, or an affirmative statement that none were observed; 13) analyst’s statement that all this information is true, correct, and complete to the best of their knowledge; 14) analyst’s statement that the information is consistent with various hearsay exceptions; 15) evidence of second-party review, generally a supervisor or qualified peer; 16) posting a copy to a publicly maintained database; 17) notifying the authorizing entity via email of the completion of the work and the location of the posting.

Per the author, because scientific evidence is especially probative, the current refusal to demand evidence of reliability, method validation, and scientific consensus has allowed shoddy work and practices to impersonate dependable science in the courts. This is an injustice to the innocent and the guilty alike.